Text: Luke 5:1-11
Date: Pentecost VI + 7/8/07
Though the Almighty God is omnipotent and omnipresent, all-powerful and present everywhere, “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” [1 Timothy 6:16 (ESV)], yet in his grace he has located himself, that is, established a point of contact where he could draw people to himself to redeem and save them from sin, death and everlasting punishment. In the Old Testament that location, that place was the temple. With the coming of the Messiah, however, that saving presence in all his glory was transferred from the temple to the flesh of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. As with the Old Covenant where even Moses had to veil his face in the presence of God, so in the New the glory of God is seen only by faith and only through the veil of the flesh of Jesus. Today’s Gospel recalls Isaiah’s vision of the glory of God in the temple with Simon Peter’s realization of that same glory at Jesus’ knees. The question remains, as there is no longer a temple, and as Jesus has ascended to his throne in heaven, where does God now locate himself for us and for our salvation?
It is here, in a place like this, and among a people like us, set apart for his Name, where he has promised to be in his flesh: in his Word preached and taught, in baptismal water poured, in eucharistic bread and wine distributed in our mouths. In the vision and call of Isaiah in the temple and in the call of Simon Peter after the miraculous catch of fish, we have a picture of what is going on before us and in us today, right now, and every Lord’s Day in the Divine Service, and how worship and witness, liturgy and mission are directly related to each other. There is a proper order for both, however. Right teaching and worship, personal conversion and faith are first. This then flows into mission and outreach with the goal of coming full circle, drawing more disciples into right teaching and worship. This is the rhythm we see throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments alike.
Isaiah was called to be a prophet and preacher. That call came in the form of a vision he had while in the temple of God’s presence. “In the year that King Uzziah died,” decades of peace and prosperity came to an end. In the first half of the 8th century bc the economy was booming and the stock market had tripled. But now the great king was dead. Things looked dismal and the second half of the century would see the demise of the northern kingdom and everything falling apart. At this critical time Isaiah had a vision in the temple. It was a vision of the True King, Adonai, “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Amid the half-asleep worshippers and priests going through their same, old routine, Isaiah saw what was really going on there. Worship around the promised place of God’s presence is active. “Above him stood the seraphim,” those winged angels not just flying but soaring and darting back and forth, calling to one with another the eternal song of heaven:
“Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
This heavenly, Trinitarian song has been sung by God’s people in temple and synagogue, in house-church and basilica, in cathedral and parish church ever since to this day, the touch-point, the connection of heaven and earth every time we join our voices with the ongoing, heavenly chorus of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Isaiah remembered God’s word to Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” [Exodus 33:20 (ESV)]. So he said, “Woe is me!…for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” He was sure he was going to die right there on the spot. But suddenly an angel, and a burning coal from the altar on his lips, and the word of Holy Absolution: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Only now came the voice of the Lord calling, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And he said, “Here am I! Send me.” What else could he say? Only being converted and cleansed himself was Isaiah now ready to be sent on mission.
You recall how Andrew and Peter, James and John were directed by John the Baptist to and drawn by Jesus as the “Messiah,” the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” They had listened to Jesus’ preaching for a time while still in their vocation as fishermen. One day, however, after a frustrating and fruitless, all-night “third shift” of fishing, Simon, James and John were, nevertheless, dutifully washing their not-so-dirty nets, maybe looking forward, when they were done, to go listen to Jesus who was teaching a crowd of people just a little down the shore from them. Suddenly Jesus called to Simon to take him out a little ways in the lake so he could teach the people from his boat.
When he was finished, Peter grabbed the oars and began to head back to the shore. But Jesus said, “Wait, Simon! Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon hesitated. Never beyond offering a little professional advice, he told Jesus the fishing isn’t good right now. Maybe there was a moment of silence, Peter looking at Jesus’ eyes, maybe with a little smile. He had just called Jesus “Master.” So he cranked with one arm to turn the boat around and head out to the deep water—against his own better judgment, just because the Master told him to do it—and let down the nets. The nets were suddenly filled with such a large number of fish that they stretched nearly to the breaking point. They needed help! Simon whistled and yelled, waving his hands to get James’ and John’s attention, and they rowed out and filled both boats with so many fish the boats began to sink.
It was then Peter had an “Isaiah moment.” Peter suddenly recognized Jesus not just as a teacher, not just as “master,” but as he is: the same Person of God Isaiah had seen in the temple. Peter reacted the same way Isaiah did. “Oy gevalt!” “Oy veh!” “Oh, no!” Or, as Isaiah said, “Woe is me.” “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Conversion happens in the context of the realization of a your sinfulness in the presence of the holiness of God. And, as with Isaiah, only now were they ready for “the call.” “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men alive!” “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” They followed Jesus no longer as just part-time disciples, but as full-time learners in preparation to be apostles and ministers of the Word.
Today, that gift of faith you have been given in your Holy Baptism is being awakened by the Word you have heard. Like Isaiah and Peter, we have confessed, and confess again even now, our total unworthiness to draw near the presence of the thrice-holy God. For this is the temple, the flesh and promised place of the presence of the same God of power and might bridled and veiled by his inviting mercy and grace. We dared to enter his presence only because the very first words out of our mouth were the baptismal words, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Only because Christ has first come to us, caught us and claimed us and washed us in his blood, the flood of his grace, do we have the nerve to say, “here am I, send me!”
Worship and witness go together. Pure teaching and mission, right worship and energized outreach are of one piece. But teaching and personal conversion comes first.
When we invite others “to church,” what exactly is it that is so inviting? We are fully aware of our own half-hearted worship, our vision blurred by the weariness and fears, the changes and chances of our own daily life, the routine of mumbling the same old words, our feeble preaching and songs. The problem, however, is not the routine, the words, the sermon and the music. The power is the vision of faith that sees through the veil the reality of the same, active, powerful glory of God rushing in to fill, now, not only the whole earth but heaven also, as here heaven and earth come together with the grace of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation for all. It is because “God himself is present,” and faith sees “the hosts the throne surrounding” and hears the hymn ascending, “Holy, holy, holy,” that we bow and bend the knee in deepest reverence [LW 206]. As long as we remain blinded to this vision, this reality, by the veil of only the outward signs we remain in fear and silent wonder, useless to the mission. Only when we recognize the awesome presence of God, the eyes of our hearts enlightened to see behind the veil the grace and glory of God in the face and the flesh of Jesus Christ with us, are we confiscated by grace and compelled to invite others to this same grace and salvation.
The risen and ascended King stands amid the lampstands of his Church, even as he said, “I am with you always.” He speaks his word to you now, “Do not be afraid.” He brings the benefits of his cross to us now. He says, “take, eat, this is my body for you; take, drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of your sins.” He says it. He gives it. Only then does he send us on his mission: his mission to love, to invite. Come, then, if you dare. “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men for My name’s sake.”